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Cigars & Fashion

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Many years ago, I think it was 2009, Andy Garcia, the Cuban-born actor, was the person of honor at a fundraiser called the “God of Fire” charity dinner held at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles. I was there. Garcia was introduced by fellow actor Joe Mantegna.

“Every year we pick an honoree who,” Mantegna paused here, and Garcia shouted, finishing the sentence with, “Will show up!”

In his remarks, Garcia recounted how he had enlisted the help of Carlos Fuente, Jr., in the making of the movie, The Lost City, Garcia’s take on the fall of Cuba to Castro’s revolution. Garcia wanted to shoot certain scenes at the presidential palace of the Dominican Republic. Fuente, who knew the Dominican president, arranged a meeting. Garcia said they left late for the meeting because Fuente was ironing his guayabera, an obsession for which he’s well known. The guayabera is a traditional shirt with four pockets. While it is named after the guava – guayaba – pickers who wore them and put the small fruit in the shirt’s pockets, the origin of the shirt is possibly more directly related to cigars. It is perfect for carrying several cigars and all the paraphernalia for getting them cut and lighted. This, in my opinion, is the quintessential nexus of cigars and fashion.

To finish the story, Garcia explained he had his own guayabera of which he was quite proud. When they got to the meeting, everything went well and permission to shoot the movie scenes was secured. At the end of the meeting, Garcia recalled, the president said to Fuente, “Take him to my tailor to get a proper guayabera.” Ouch!

The History of Cigars & Fashion

The guayabera is considered to be Cuban and is believed to date back to the 18th century. It’s mostly a summer shirt with the long-sleeved version being considered more formal. While this, like almost any origin story is disputed, legend has it that a man named Jose Gonzales in the Cuban province of Sancti Spíritus, west of Havana in the country’s interior, asked his wife to make a white, long-sleeved linen shirt with four large pockets to carry things like cigars during the day. Or, an alternative story says he asked for it to carry the small guava fruits. In any case, the shirt became popular among guava farmers, then went mainstream into Cuban society. Now, it’s worn throughout the Caribbean and Central America. Today, there’s even a guayabera with the Cohiba brand, further emphasizing the connection with cigars.

What to Wear to a Cigar Party

Cigars have historically been associated with success and wealth. In the mid-19th century, as cigars gained popularity in Europe, especially in England and France, the elite classes began equating cigars with other luxury items. As cigar clubs formed, or as cigar-smoking took hold in already established clubs, men began to wear smoking jackets, sometimes full-length, designed to protect their clothing. With the cigar’s association with luxury, men – with or without smoking jackets – tended to wear tailored suits while enjoying a smoke.

Power Smoking

In the 20th century, cigars became more associated with power, along with wealth. Prominent world figures like Winston Churchill wore pinstripe suits, more oriented to the conduct of political business. On the opposite end, Fidel Castro was known to wear green combat fatigues. Apart from the clothes one wore, cigars became fashionable as symbols of power.

Celebrate With Cigars

In all these cases, throughout every century, cigars have been used to celebrate. When an athlete wins a championship, when a baby is born, at a wedding, the celebration tends to include cigars all around. So, that has become a fashion in and of itself. And that’s something we all can raise a glass – or, er – light a cigar to.

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